Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Italy

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Italy , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, there were about 24,900 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection in Italy. These included 808 refugees granted status during the year, 6,192 asylum seekers pending a first-instance decision on their cases, and about 17,900 recipients of temporary protection from Kosovo.

Some 34,300 asylum seekers filed claims in Italy during 1999, almost a fivefold increase from the 7,112 applicants requesting asylum in 1998. A breakdown of applicants by country of origin was not available for 1999.

During 1999, the Italian authorities issued decisions on the merits of some 8,331 applications, granting refugee status in 808 cases, an approval rate of 9.7 percent. Individuals representing 7,523 cases were denied asylum during the year.

Of the groups of asylum seekers with a statistically significant number of decisions made in 1999, Ethiopian nationals had the highest approval rate (82.4 percent), followed by nationals of Iran (60.8), Congo-Kinshasa (42.3 percent), and Albania (32.8 percent). However, 93 percent of decisions made during 1999 concerned Yugoslav and Iraqi applicants, who had approval rates of 4.6 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Italian authorities reportedly closed the cases of a large number of applicants in 1999 because they failed to appear for their asylum interviews.

Asylum Procedure

Although the Italian government considered revisions to its asylum law during 1999, it did not pass new legislation. Pending legislative changes, the asylum provisions of the Martelli Law of 1990 continued to govern the asylum procedure. The Martelli Law gives legal authority to reject asylum seekers at the border if they arrive via third countries that have signed the UN Refugee Convention and have spent more time in such countries than necessary to transit them.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that undocumented asylum seekers arriving at Italy's borders sometimes had difficulty applying for asylum in 1999.

A person wishing to apply for asylum in Italy must submit a written application to the headquarters of the provincial police (Questura) where he or she is located. The Questura then transmits the application to the Central Commission for Recognition of Refugee Status, the competent authority for deciding asylum claims. Although the law requires the commission to interview applicants and issue first-instance decisions within 15 days, in practice the commission takes considerably longer.

Asylum seekers are issued 45-day residence permits to await the commission's decision. Under law, applicants without means to provide for themselves are eligible for a modest cash grant for the first 45 days. Asylum seekers are eligible to stay in reception centers for foreigners for up to 120 days. Asylum seekers in Italy may not work during the asylum procedure and have no access to subsidized health care, except in emergencies.

An applicant may appeal a negative decision within 60 days to the administrative court in the region where filing a claim. Further appeals to the Council of State and the president of Italy are possible. After a denial in the second instance, however, the applicant may be deported or issued an order to leave the country.

Arrivals from Kosovo

In early May, Italy agreed to evacuate some 6,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees in Macedonian refugee camps as part of an international effort to share responsibility for Kosovo refugees and preserve first asylum in the region. By mid-June, Italy had airlifted more than 5,800 Kosovo Albanians to Sicily, where Italian authorities set up temporary housing at a decommissioned military base. The evacuees received temporary protection. Between mid-June when Serb forces left Kosovo and the end of the year, about 3,800 of the evacuees repatriated.

In June, the Italian government also passed a decree granting temporary protection to spontaneously arriving asylum seekers from Kosovo who had entered the country after March 26, 1999. Temporary protection recipients received temporary residence permits, valid through the end of the year, and the right to work.

Italy's open-door policy was short-lived, however. In the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, thousands of Roma from Kosovo fled to Italy, leading the government to repeal temporary protection for new arrivals on August 8. Authorities granted temporary protection to an estimated 3,500 Kosovo Roma before it rescinded the decree. Another 3,500 Kosovo Roma arrived in Italy between August 8 and the end of the year.

By the beginning of August, however, Italian officials said that Italy would treat new arrivals from Kosovo as illegal immigrants irrespective of whether they were members of minority groups, such as Roma, or majority Kosovo Albanians.

Although the Italian government said it would allow new arrivals to apply for asylum, statements by Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in late July called into question the objectivity of asylum adjudications for Roma. "If I recognize someone's status as a refugee I am legitimizing the possibility that a minority can be driven out of a country where there is an international contingent present. And that would be a mistake," the Italian prime minister said in a television interview in late July. The Italian Refugee Council reported that 17,918 persons from Kosovo remained in Italy in November 1999.


In June 1998, the Italian government approved a plan to grant residence permits to certain categories of undocumented immigrants who entered the country before March 26, 1998, including those with family members holding Italian residence permits and those with jobs or firm offers of employment.

Despite the larger than anticipated number of applicants, the Italian government decided in February 1999 to grant residence permits to all undocumented foreigners who met eligibility criteria. By that time, some 308,000 persons had applied for the residence permits, of whom as many as 250,000 were expected be eligible. Albanians (40,000) were the largest group of applicants, followed by Romanians (23,500), Moroccans (22,500), and Chinese (19,000).

Some 123,000 undocumented foreigners obtained residence permits under the amnesty in 1999, in addition to 38,000 who received permits in 1998.

A similar amnesty in 1995 and 1996 enabled about 220,000 undocumented foreigners working in Italy to obtain legal status.

Boat Arrivals

Throughout 1999, thousands of asylum seekers and migrants continued to arrive by boat in Italy, almost all via smugglers who often transported them in unsafe vessels, adding to the perils of the journey. Thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo arrived in the spring, followed by Kosovo Roma in the summer. During the year, thousands of other asylum seekers and migrants also arrived by boat in Italy from countries such as Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan. Most of the boat arrivals, including those with passengers from farther afield, arrived from Albania and Montenegro. Some larger ships transporting the undocumented also arrived from eastern Mediterranean ports in Turkey and elsewhere during the year.

During the first nine months of the year, the Italian Navy reportedly apprehended more than 20,000 undocumented foreigners in the 44-mile (70 km) channel separating Otranto and Albania, the same number of arrests for all of 1998. For each of those caught attempting to reach Italian shores, the Italian government reportedly estimated that two or three undocumented foreigners managed to slip into Italy undetected.

Others died in the attempt. In the middle of August, an Italy-bound vessel transporting an estimated 100 Kosovo Roma sank off the Montenegrin coast, killing all on board except one boy whom fishermen rescued. Earlier in the month, a middle-aged Iraqi Kurdish woman drowned after her smugglers threw her and others on their boat overboard close to the Italian coast and sped off to evade arrest by the Italian navy – a common getaway tactic that smugglers use. Four more undocumented foreigners drowned in November when the boat transporting them sank off the Italian coast near Brindisi.


In part responding to European Union (EU) pressure to shore up its borders, Italy adopted a new immigration law on February 19, 1998. The new law replaced all provisions of the Martelli Law of 1990 except those regulating the asylum procedure. Aspects of the law nevertheless touch on asylum.

Most significantly in the eyes of Italy's EU partners, the new law provides for the detention of undocumented entrants for up to 30 days pending their deportation. Previously, Italy had issued expulsion orders to undocumented entrants, requiring them to leave the country within 15 days. Because Italian authorities did not enforce the expulsion orders, however, many migrants and asylum seekers used the 15 days during which they were to comply with the removal order to travel onward to countries farther north.

The change had dramatic results. Expulsions from Italy increased by a factor of 10, from between 4,000 and 5,000 in previous years to 54,000 in 1998. In 1999, the number of expulsions increased yet again to an estimated 65,000.

Italy's move to enforce expulsion orders reportedly does not prevent asylum seekers from filing applications. The 1998 immigration law also imposes stiffer penalties for those smuggling undocumented migrants and asylum seekers.

Other Border Controls

Italy is a party both to the Schengen and Dublin conventions (see chart). The arrival of larger numbers of undocumented asylum seekers – Kurds from Turkey and Iraq in 1997 and 1998, and Kosovo Albanians and Roma in 1999 – prompted other Schengen member states, particularly Germany, to renew demands that Italy better police its coastline and restrict access to undocumented foreigners.

Italy has taken several steps to block undocumented asylum seekers and migrants. In January 1999, Italy deployed an additional 2,000 border police to its border with Slovenia to prevent undocumented asylum seekers and migrants from entering the country. In August, the Italian government called on Montenegro to tighten controls along its coastline to prevent undocumented boat departures to Italy and said that cooperation between Italy and Montenegro would depend on Montenegrin efforts to crack down on undocumented migration.

In 1998, Italy also signed agreements with Morocco, Tunisia, and Albania aimed at preventing undocumented migrants from leaving those countries for Italy. Under the Italian-Tunisian agreement, Tunisia also agreed to readmit its nationals caught while trying to enter Italy illegally in return. Italy agreed to provide economic development assistance in return.

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